On August 1st, 2011, an enchantingly beautiful tall ship bearing the equally enchanting name "Esmeralda" will enter Canadian waters to begin a two week visit to the cities of Victoria and Vancouver.
Her four masts and 21 sails stand almost 160 feet above the water. Longer than a football field and carrying a crew of 390, she is the second largest sailing vessel still plying the oceans of the world.
A training ship for the Chilean Navy, "La Esmeralda" comes as a guest of the Canadian Government and the Canadian Navy. And a lot of Canadians are requesting that both change their minds and order her to turn back.
For although she is affectionately known as "The White Lady", Esmeralda has a very dark and horrific past.
From 1973 to 1980, she was one of the primary places where Chilean political prisoners and innocent civilians caught up in the web of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet were taken to be raped, tortured and ultimately "disappeared".
Now let's be clear. This magnificent ship had no say in what happened aboard her. And most of the men who sail in her today weren't even born when those crimes against humanity were committed.
But more than 30 years after The White Lady's last victim was slipped over her sides to an unmarked watery grave, no one has been called to account.
Despite detailed investigations conducted by Amnesty International, the US Senate, and the Organization of American States, and despite Chile's own Truth and Reconciliation Commission which all detailed and documented what happened aboard the ship, the Chilean Navy has refused to acknowledge having any part in what was done, let alone name which of their officers and men participated.
At the end of May, despite this continued Naval Blockade of the Truth, the Chilean Government finally charged 19 retired senior naval officers. But no one knows when or even if they will ever be brought to trial.
Last week, the Mayor and City Council of Victoria unanimously requested that our Federal Government and Navy rescind their invitations to "Esmeralda" and similar motions are expected from the cities of Saanich, View Royal and Esquimalt (Home of the Canadian Pacific Fleet) whose shores the ship will have to pass to reach Victoria's Inner Harbor.
It's the height of tourist season in a part of the country that thrives on tourism and with massive cruise ships arriving daily no one wants to wear the stain "Esmeralda" inevitably trails in her wake.
For if she does arrive, she will be greeted, as she is in virtually every port, by crowds of Human Rights activists, protesters and vivid street theatre re-enactments of her past. In Victoria, she will also be met by several members of the clergy, even the normally straight-laced Anglican ones, wanting to know the fate of their fellow Episcopal Priest Father Michael Woodward whose last known whereabouts were in a torture room below Esmeralda's decks.
Yet, plans are afoot for the usual Pomp and Circumstance. Naval bands will parade. Ceremonial cannons will fire. And local dignitaries will go aboard to dine with the Captain.
I don't know if they will visit the rooms where hundreds of young women, many with no political affiliation whatsoever, were brutalized, gang raped and murdered. But I do know they'll cross the deck where chained and naked men were battered by the water from fire hoses until their flesh was flayed. They'll most certainly get to see the masts around which others were handcuffed for days, left to the elements and beaten with rifle butts if they tried to sleep.
Allowing "Esmeralda" to visit a Canadian port on a "Good Will Tour" is on a par with taking one of the Auschwitz ovens around the Summer BBQ circuit. And those responsible for that latter obscenity were at least brought to justice.
Although the Chilean Navy rationalizes the various visits of "Esmeralda" as an opportunity to move on, the revelations of her past and the work of those trying to bring her former sailors to account are making that more and more difficult. She has been banned from several ports already and unceremoniously escorted out of others "for her own protection".
Maybe we too need to ask "Esmeralda" to go home and wash the last of the blood from her decks before welcoming her as a guest in our country.